Antwerp and Ghent are the big consumers of municipal subsidies. Of the 5.1 billion euros that flowed to local authorities in 2022, they received a third, according to an analysis made by the newspaper De Tijd based on figures from Flemish MP Brecht Warnez (CD&V). The two major cities receive as many subsidies as 244 often rural municipalities, which together have four times more inhabitants than Antwerp and Ghent. This concerns money from the Municipal Fund, additional grants and project subsidies.
Antwerp and Ghent each receive slightly more than 2,000 euros in subsidies from Flanders per inhabitant. That is almost three times more than the Flemish average of 763 euros. The other provincial capitals Hasselt, Leuven and Bruges have to make do with 900 to 1,000 euros per inhabitant. The 244 worst-off municipalities, such as Londerzeel, Nieuwerkerken or Anzegem, receive between 230 and 640 euros per inhabitant. Some of them, such as Sint-Martens-Latem or Brasschaat, receive less Flemish money because they have rich residents and therefore a stronger tax base.
“The balance is completely lost,” says Warnez in the newspaper. He is also alderman in Wingene, West Flanders. “Specific city problems justify subsidies, but smaller cities and rural municipalities are seriously underfunded. The countryside deserves more money and more respect,” he says.
But according to Antwerp and Ghent, the distribution is done correctly. They point out that they face greater challenges, such as poverty and the care of homeless people or refugees, and offer many facilities for non-residents. “In recent years, many tasks have been transferred from supra-local levels to the central cities, without financial compensation,” argues Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq (Open VLD).
Flemish Minister of the Interior Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD) acknowledges that the distribution is “not optimal”. She expects a study on the Municipal Fund in April. The findings should form the blueprint for a reform in the next legislature.